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Consumer and context with smartphones versus tablets

April 2, 2013


Betsy Frank is chief research and insights officer of Time Inc.

Betsy Frank is chief research and insights officer of Time Inc.

By Betsy Frank

If you are reading this post, the untapped opportunities of mobile content, distribution and advertising are keeping you up at night, perhaps literally.

The delta between consumer time spent with and advertising support of mobile is the largest of any medium, and we know mobile devices will continue to skyrocket this year, as they drive an otherwise sluggish consumer electronics marketplace.

While the opportunities of mobile are real, our December 2012 Time Inc. Innovation Panel Study of almost 1,000 tablet and smartphone owners revealed a few findings that content creators and marketers should take notice of:

“Me time” versus “found time”
While smartphones and tablets may be growing more comparable in size (“phablets,” anyone?), from a consumer perspective, usage is beginning to diverge very clearly.

Tablets are overwhelmingly used at home, during the most relaxing times of the day, and in rooms most associated with “me time.” Consumers ritualize, value and fiercely protect their “me time,” as magazine publishers have known for decades.

Smartphones, although used in the home a surprisingly high 40 percent of the time, are still most associated with being on the go.

Consumers, on average, spend 1.5 hours “waiting” each day – in line, for their train, for an elevator, in a doctor’s office. Here, they are discovering short pockets of “found time” that present us with new opportunities to reach them with engaging content.

Publishers and marketers need to program for these pockets visually and provide real substance in smaller doses, making “found time” a valuable find.

Love has many faces
We love our tablets. We especially love them for playing games, shopping, researching and buying products, and increasingly for consuming media such as magazines, books, newspapers and video.

We also love our smartphones, but for very different reasons: For maps, GPS, taking and sharing photos, creating shopping and to-do lists when in the store, scanning bar or QR codes, checking in on foursquare, and, of course, making and receiving calls.

The only areas where owners use the devices at comparable levels are getting news and information, reading and sending email, using social media sites, using productivity apps and finding deals or coupons.

Do not confuse “second screen” with “third”
While consumers use both tablets and smartphones to enhance their television viewing experience, the tablet is used far more as a second screen.

While half of all tablet owners say they also use their tablets at least half of all the time they are watching TV, only one-third of smartphone owners do this, and more than one quarter of smartphone owners say they never use their phone for this purpose.

Implication for marketers? Advertise with care
While probing consumer reaction to advertising is one of the most challenging areas to explore, we have learned that ads are more accepted and even welcomed on tablets compared with smartphones.

Phones are still on-the-go utility devices and personal hubs, not to mention communication devices, and often ads are considered interruptive to these experiences.

Tablets, increasingly, are media consumption devices, and advertising in media is a fact of life.

In fact, compared with smartphones, tablets get high marks for supplying extra information, creative and interesting ads, and ads that enhance the overall experience.

SO MARKETERS need to tread carefully into this very personal world of mobile, and consider the consumer and the context, rather than thinking about tablets and smartphones as two sides of the same coin.

Tablets, perhaps contrary to early expectations, have settled in and become integrated into our home entertainment and information ecosystems.

Smartphones, no matter how app-filled and multimedia they are, are still generally used outside the home and for very specific, pragmatic functions, usually in short bursts of time.

As we consider the content and advertising experiences we create for both platforms, we should first ask ourselves: Where is the consumer likely to be in his or her day? What do they want to accomplish? And are we programming for “me time” or “found time?”

Betsy Frank is chief research and insights officer of Time Inc., New York. Reach her at 

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